Result: Arsenal 1 – 1 Fulham
Competition: Premier League
Date: 18 April 2021
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Ryan, Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Xhaka, Elneny, Ceballos, Saka, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Lacazette
Subs: Leno, Cedric, Chambers, Mari, Partey, Willian, Pepe, Nelson, Nketiah
Arsenal laboured to a draw against Fulham in a sluggish performance at home. Despite starting well, they lost momentum midway through the first half. They should have gone ahead at the end of the half with a Ceballos headed goal but VAR ruled it for offside.
Gabriel then gave away a penalty in the second half which was converted by Fulham’s Maja. The Gunners toiled in their attempts to find an equaliser and it was substitute Nketiah who pounced on a loose ball in the 7th minute of injury time to secure a point for Arsenal.
Rotation was the name of the game against Fulham as Arteta called on the bench in a bid to rest a few first team players. Loanee Mat Ryan made a rare start in goal while Bellerin, Gabriel, Elneny and Martinelli returned to the starting line up.
Xhaka continued at left back in Tierney’s absence while Lacazette, Smith Rowe and Saka looked to continue their rich vein of form up front.
Arsenal started the game the same way they ended their last – by attacking the opposition. It only took the Gunners 30 seconds to make a direct attempt on goal. Gabriel pinged a long pass from deep for Martinelli to cushion down for Lacazette. Martinelli beat the offside trap to receive the return ball from the Frenchman only to miss when attempting to lob Areola in goal.
Fulham couldn’t cope with the fast exchanges made by Arsenal around their penalty box with Saka, Smith Rowe and Lacazette bamboozling the away side while the livewire Martinelli moved with intent, taking another shot on goal a few minutes later which was well saved by Areola.
Arsenal’s defending was also pretty positive, penning the Fulham defenders back as they tried to build the play from the back. Often, it was sterile possession deep in the Fulham box as the away team failed to find passing options, expertly cut out by Arsenal’s forwards.
Despite holding Fulham at an arm’s length, it was pretty passive stuff from Arsenal and eventually, Fulham found their way out with a speculative shot by Maja trickling just wide after deflecting off Holding that caught Ryan on his heels.
This passive approach meant that a malaise crept in slowly to the Arsenal team. Passes went astray, movement was minimal and we couldn’t find a way past the Fulham defence.
When it seemed that the first half was going to end with little action on both ends, Arsenal went ahead through a rare Ceballos headed goal. A punt into the Fulham penalty box was well-worked into a clever chip by Bellerin and it was his compatriot who rose high to knock the ball into an empty net. However, VAR annoyingly intervened to rule the goal offside as Lacazette was a mere toe behind the last defender in the build-up.
As silly as the VAR decision was, Arsenal should have had very little complaints about ending the first half with no goals. They started out strong but slowly lost their pace and momentum as the match wore on.
It seemed that the Gunners were made aware of their malaise during the break and came flying out immediately, again producing a shot that was close to being a goal by Lacazette.
The increased tempo by Arsenal saw greater urgency to press Fulham higher up. Tackles came flying hard with Xhaka being on the end of a couple of tough tackles. But it was the failed challenge from Gabriel on an onrushing Lemina in the penalty box that changed the complexion of the game.
The Fulham player had his toe stepped on for the foul and Maja scored from the penalty spot to move the Cottagers ahead. 0-1 Fulham
Arteta raised the tempo by taking off Elneny and Bellerin for Pepe and Partey. But the Gunners fortunes went from bad to worse when the manager had to make his final substitution just minutes later when Lacazette pulled up with an injury – Nketiah took his place on the pitch.
The change of pace was almost immediate. Smith Rowe played in Martinelli who skipped past Areola but could only take the ball wide. His cross found Pepe at the far post whose header was instinctively saved by Areola off the line.
With 15 minutes left, it was all on Arsenal to hit back and find an equaliser.
Arsenal found it hard to break down a resolute Fulham team who were desperate to earn the three points in their battle against relegation with last minute clearances and a deep defensive block.
The home side’s persistence finally paid off in the final minute of injury time as substitute Nketiah stabbed home from a corner kick skirmish. 1-1 Arsenal
Arsenal didn’t deserve to lose this game but neither were they convincing enough to justify a win. With Arsenal’s hunt for a top 6 place looking even bleaker, Arsenal can’t afford more performances like these if they’re looing to book a European place for next season.